São Paulo: Arte por arte, arte por política

We now have arrived safely at home and last week’s election has fundamentally changed the nature of both domestic and international politics. If I’m being honest, it has also cast a shadow on how I see the world. Yet, I still want to write about our time in São Paulo and, in another post, Campo Grande. I want to write about our old friends and our new colleagues; about the people we met that are trying to keep the ship afloat amidst real political and economic challenges in Brazil; and about the general warmth and generosity that makes Brazil such a wonderful place.

Getting Settled in São Paulo

São Paulo is a sprawling mega-city, throttled by traffic jams and throbbing with art and music and politics. Despite keeping company with Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong in terms of population, São Paulo is distinctly Latin American. But São Paulo also has its own feel, too. It’s more buttoned up and perhaps more political than its neighbor to the north, Rio, and more diverse than Latin America’s other mega-cities like Buenos Aires or Mexico City. (All that said, tell me why I’m wrong, cariocas, porteñas and DF-denizens!)

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This is a map from MAM.  Anyone who has been in my office knows I have a spot in my heart for distorted maps.

In such a big city, it can be hard to find a corner to call home, but our Airbnb was a great townhouse in the Pinherios neighborhood, right by the Praça Benedito Calixto Feira. It was cozy and charming and had every Disney movie ever filmed, as well as a playroom in the basement. The girls were over the moon!

We arrived at the apartment midday on Thursday, and after just enough time to shower and grab a bite to eat, I headed off to give a talk at the International Relations Institute at the University of São Paulo (USP), where I reconnected with old friends and colleagues and met young human rights scholars. After the talk, I got back to the apartment just in time to kiss the girls goodnight and get to work: I had a workshop to plan for the next morning.

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Late night workshop prep

After a short night of sleep, I headed back to USP and Carrick and the girls went off to explore. The workshop I was running focused on qualitative data analysis, particularly data management, indicator development and content analysis. The students were all MA and Ph.D. students in political science or international relations, but their areas of emphasis ranged from human rights to bilateral investments. I learned a great deal from all of their research projects, and I hope they learned a bit about data management and analysis from me, too.

Art in São Paulo

img_0976With my work done for the week, we were able to spend the weekend enjoying São Paulo’s museums and parks. On Saturday, we spent the morning at the artisanal fair in our neighborhood, wandering among the stalls and enjoying fresh pão de queijo and other fried deliciousness from the food stands.

In the afternoon, we made our way over to Parque do Ibirapuera. We started at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), which brought together a range of modern art and multi-media exhibits. The building itself is open and airy, with a central ramp that ties together the “earthier” exhibits on the ground floor, with the “tech-ier” exhibits on the second floor. (Clearly I am not an art historian.  Maybe in my next life.) The famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, who is chiefly known for his work in Brasília, designed all of the buildings in the park. I haven’t made it to Brasília to see his work yet, but one day I will!

After taking in the art at the museum, we went to play in the nearby playground for a bit, but if was obvious that everyone needed a rest. C and N went to relax and play Pokemon near the park’s planetarium, while W tucked herself into her stroller for a snooze as I strolled through the Museu Afro Brazil. And wow, what a museum! The exhibits were rich and nuanced. Taken together, they showed the centrality of Africans and Afro-Brazilians to the country’s social, economic and political fabric. I only spent the better part of an hour there, but I could have easily spent three times a long.

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I didn’t get too many pictures inside the Afro-Brazilian Museum, but I did snap this one of sculptures that invoke the stocks central to the slave trade and slavery.

We spent the evening at a friend’s house, chatting over delicious food about politics, parenting and art.

The next day we headed over to Avenida Paulista to meet up again with our friend for playtime at Parque Siquera Campos, which is a lovely park filled with native plants and trees right in the city center. The playground was packed with kids, and C and N made new friends easily. One of the girls’ new playmates could not believe that they didn’t speak Portuguese–not even a little–but decided it didn’t matter much and that they should play together anyhow!

After some time on the playground, we crossed Avenida Paulista to the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) for lunch and more art. Lunch was a tremendous buffet, with traditional Brazilian food like feijoada, fresh fruit, salad and lots and lots of desserts. Brazilian buffets, by the way, are just the best. If you travel throughout Brazil, you will undoubtedly encounter buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unlike in the States, though, where buffets have a reputation for being not-so-hot, in Brazil you can find buffets at any price-point or type of food.

Once our bellies were full, we wound our way through the museum. The MASP collection, which includes Brazilian, Latin American and European masterpieces, is limited by its space, but the curators make the most of the area they do have by taking the art off of the walls and into contact with the visitors. The pieces are displayed on glass stands that form aisles in a big open room. There are no velvet ropes to separate the viewer from the Van Gogh. In that sense, it’s all very democratic. The art comes to the people; not vice versa. Art, after all, is politics.


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